When Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew made it far enough into their courtship that they began spending time at Melkon’s family gatherings, Litty came across a speed bump. The raw alcohol the family tended to be drawn towards was simply too raw for her tastes. Lest any suspicion be drawn towards the outsider, she began infusing her own alcohol to bring along. Some batches weren’t fit for consumption, some were instant hits, and soon the family started requesting bottles of her personal fire water. The decision to go big time came when a dinner party crowd developed around her gift of a bottle to the hosts, as someone exclaimed “I’d buy a bottle of that!” Greenbar Distillery began to take shape.
Located at the end of a street of warehouses in downtown LA sits the first distillery to open in the old city since the age of prohibition. Driving down a street that dead ends with a gated entrance to an Amtrak yard, the natural action is to curse Maps for sending you to the wrong side of town. A small metal sign and friendly imprints in the cement in front of the door mark the location, and once inside it becomes pretty clear that this is where you want to be. As the tour group is led upstairs to the tasting room, the scope of the building’s renovation is unveiled with a large open floorpan and floor to ceiling glass panels revealing the distillery itself.
Gathered in a group around the bar, the passion each employee has for the brand comes through as they explain the history of the brand. Ingredients are limited to certified organic status, though not specifically for any political or marketing statement. When one of their local farmers delivered a batch of celery that was especially pungent, the decision was made that organic ingredients would produce a superior product. The flavor profile of all of the spirits at Greenbar back that claim up, as the they don’t just smell of their given flavor, but the taste fills your mouth, cutting through the alcoholic burn.
In the immortal words of Willy Wonka, ”The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!”
Initial samples are served followed by an introduction to the distilling process. From there the group is led down to the distillery itself, where brand new 1,000 and 2,000 gallon French white oak barrels have just been delivered for aging whiskey. After significant testing, Greenbar has decided to forego the traditional recipe for whiskey and offer two choices. A white whiskey highlights the flavor of grains (oats, barley and spelt) over that of wood, while Six Woods is made of 100% barley, and steeped with the toasted cubes of hickory, mulberry, red oak, hard maple grape woods.
While the large copper still is one of the instantly recognizable pieces in the facility, it’s not the primary tool for producing spirits. Greenbar employs a Small Scale Continuous Fractionating Column system. This beautiful piece of innovation is a miniature version of what the large distillers use, and this particular unit has been fine tuned for automated super efficiency. “Fractioning” is the process of splitting the production of crude alcohol and then redistilling the raw, crude alcohol in columns. The column makes it possible for ethanol to be distilled more than 30 times before reaching the collection vessel, giving an ultra high alcoholic strength to the liquid produced. Once the liquid is distilled, it’s brought through the copper still for a re-infusing of flavors. This is still done regularly by “hand” to ensure consistency batch to batch. Greenbar also hosts a fully automated bottling system, which is rare for a distillery of this size, but allows them to focus more on what they enjoy.
The tour group is led back to the tasting room where everyone is given a choice of the vast portfolio of spirits produced by Greenbar. The selections include Tru Vodka (straight, lemon, garden and vanilla), Tru Gin, IXA Tequila (Silver, Reposado, and Anejo, all produced in Mexico), Slow Hand Whiskey, Crusoe Rum (silver and spiced), Fruitlab Liqueur (Ginger, Hibiscus, Jasmine and Orange), Grand Poppy Bitter Liqueur, and a unique line of bitters. Bar Keep Bitters is a joint venture with Greenbar and bartenders who have won their barmade bitters challenge. Each creator earns an income from the sale of each bottle, which features the face of each creator on the label. Whole herbs, roots, flowers, citrus and teas are macerated in high-proof rum base over 3-4 weeks to capture the deep aroma, flavor and color that is a hallmark of the brand. Local laws unfortunately limit what can be tasted to six 1/4 ounce ‘shots’, which is just enough to get your taste buds going.
Greenbar’s spirits are a full flavored, smooth option for bases, mixers or straight sipping that can be found in most states. From jars filled with infused spirits and home printed labels to LA’s first distillery in decades, Greenbar has charged ahead with passion for their product that shines through in a premium taste experience.
Greenbar Craft Distillery is located at 2459 East 8th Street in Los Angeles, CA. To learn more about taking the tour, visit their website here.